Childhood Must Never Be Derailed By Motherhood

National Yemen

Early marriage in Yemen.

Asma al-Mohattwari

Marriage for these underage girls was only a chance to get a new dress, jewelry, sweets and a party for all their friends. What they did not know was that after the wedding party their childhood would be destroyed. They would have to leave school, cook and clean all day, have children and, in some cases, lose their lives.

Rawan, Fauzia and Elham never imagined that their wedding day would be the end of their lives.

Rawan, a child of eight, lost her life on the second day of her marriage to a man over thirty years her senior. She died of internal injuries incurred on the first night of her marriage. Fauzia Abdullah Yusuf is another victim of early marriage. She married a farmer over twice her age, and died on September 11, 2009 in Hodeida. After 3 days of a painful, toilsome labor, Fauzi passed away. The child did not survive the labor either.

Nejwed and Basma were luckier than Rawan and Fauzia because they were able to escape their marriages and secure divorces from their husbands. Nejwed, 11, is considered the youngest divorcee in Yemen. Her husband, 30, forced her to leave her school and beat her whenever she refused to obey him. Her suffering in her husband’s house gave her the courage to escape her marital home. She took a taxi to a courthouse where she described the conditions in which her husband forced her to live: she was divorced one year later.

Another story is that of Basma, a child of seven who was in her first year of school when her father decided to give her as a gift to the son of his father-in-law. No one outside her immediate family was aware of the criminal act, and it was not until Basma’s aunt visited Basma’s family home and did not see the girl that the crime came to light. After a number of calls made by Basma’s aunt, the pair succeeded in securing her divorce.

Population surveys conducted by the Yemeni Population Council in July 2014 show that early marriage in Yemen has declined in the last ten years. The surveys say that the decline of early marriage has lead to a high level of education among females.

In the last few years, Yemen has attempted legislation aiming to fix a minimum age for marriage. Human rights organizations, along with many activists in the field, have called for the adoption of a law setting the minimum marriage age for men and women at 18.

This demand has been strongly opposed by religious factions, some parliamentarians, and tribal groups, whose joint opposition managed to defeat the resolution in 2009. The law did not receive any support.

Yemen’s Personal Status Law of 1994 sets the minimum age of marriage at 15 years, but official sources state that amendments to the Personal Status Law have rendered Yemeni legislation unclear on this point. The current law establishes that only a girl’s trustee has the right to decide whether she is physically and psychologically ready for marriage, which greatly weakens the government’s ability to administer this issue.

During the Arab Spring, Yemeni women appeared strongly on the media as leaders and an essential part of the Yemeni revolution in 2011. Yemeni women have been able to achieve many successes, beginning with their presence in the popular demonstrations in Change Square demanding regime change. Women played a central role in the reforms that have taken place in Yemen during the past three years and have achieved a strong presence in the revolutionary and media scene.

Yemeni women’s struggle to gain their rights cannot be confined to the past three years. Its roots date back to the early sixties when Yemeni women participated in the struggle against colonialism. They led demonstrations and contributed to the mobilization of public opinion.

During the past three decades, Yemeni women were able to achieve several gains that culminated with their active role in the movement for peaceful change in 2011. Women concluded the march of success with almost 30% of representation in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) to first work on determining the age of the girl marriage.

Today, Yemeni women stand on the threshold of a new and important stage where they are part of the new Yemeni constitutional foundations. It is a stage that they should put all their strength and efforts towards building in order to express the hopes and aspirations of the Yemeni people.

Dr. Entlaq al-Motakel, NDC member, said that rights are taken, not given. Any earnings added to women’s conditions are because they are the fruits of the continued struggle.

“I really was surprised when we sometimes found some women who are against women’s rights only because men in their parties don’t agree with those rights, using religion to reject them.  Islam is a religion of justice, fairness and does not accept the damage of women.”

According to al-Motakel the worst type of violence is early marriage because it deprives girls of their right to childhood and education. This has serious social, health and psychological repercussions.

“From this point, I see the adoption of an age of marriage as the most important decision against violence towards women. Certainly there will be many wonderful decisions followed-up by the new constitutions that I hope that will be implemented and put in a mechanism that ensures their survival and adherence.”